Saturday, August 12, 2017

Double Bind

Double Bind: Women on AmbitionDouble Bind: Women on Ambition by Robin Romm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Essays on ambition from women in all walks of life - if you have emotions about ambition, there's an essay for you here.

First thoughts: This book gave me some feelings, or at least it brought out feelings I'd already had. Am I ambitious? Do I care about ambition?

Favorite quotes:

"There are infinite facets." -Robin Romm (There are so many ways to be a woman, to view ambition...and we're still surprised that we're not all the same.)

"I and mine are not lean-in women. Mine is a long and illustrious heritage of elegant survivalists and creative realists." -Ayana Mathis

"That's enough being scared, they'd say. We didn't do all of this struggling so you could just give up. Get up now. Take a step. Then another. Then another, like we did." -Ayana Mathis

"What I want - interesting problems, inspiring people, chances to steer old conversations in new directions - is happening all around me, all the time." -Evany Thomas

"I get that my foremothers and sisters fought long and hard so that my relationship to ambition could be so...careless. I get that some foremothers and sisters might read me as ungrateful because I don't want to fight their battles, because I don't want to claw my way anywhere." -Elisa Albert

"Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don't care if I'm socialized to feel this way, because in fact I do feel this way." -Elisa Albert

"I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing." -Elisa Albert

Recommended for: women, men, ambitious types, passionate folks, cautious and creative individuals, anyone interested in humans.

Final thoughts: Why do women in particular have such strange relationships with ambition? What does that elusive word even mean? This book asks more questions than it answers, and asks them specifically to the reader, showing how personal ambition really is.


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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Letter to a Future Lover

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in LibrariesLetter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Collected essays inspired by the things left in library books - this is the type of book I'm always drawn to, the type that I could see myself writing, and yet Monson's take was worlds different from what I expected.

First thoughts: There are moments of genius in these essays. Other times, I'm confused. I know they weren't originally bound and ordered this way, so I wonder if there's an order to the essays that would reveal a different narrative. I found some of the topics extremely interesting with my 1.5 class library school background.

Favorite quotes:
"Each book in which you lose yourself equals ten thousand you will not have time to read." (bittersweet!)

"Own the ways we break, it seems to say: understand that the fault lines of a mind or body are individual, and honor them."

"We often move through books more quickly than is wise." (guilty)

"Everything we've written, what we've read, what we've collected, what we've bookmarked on what pages, what notes we left pressed herein, what we have included, discarded, defaced, lost and then replaced, how it's filed and organized: it's all a carrier, a vector, an edifice of us."

Recommended for: librarian wannabes, love letter leavers, organizers, memory keepers, collectors, and romantics.

Final thoughts: Hmm. An interesting book to dip into, and a solid short-but-slow read, if that's what you're feeling.


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Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Night Links 40

We've made it - I'm officially 29, that magical age that so many women claim to be. (Is that still a thing? It definitely was when I was younger.) When I turned 28, I committed to following my curiosity, and I think we can all agree I did just that. The end of my teaching fellowship brought on lots of questions about my future plans, but a few of the biggest (for me) were "Do I want to be a librarian?" and "How do I become a librarian?"

If I'm being honest with myself, that's been my dream for a while now, and going back to school became step one in the process. Taking a step away from blogging to focus on schoolwork was step two. I'm figuring out the rest of the steps as I go, and stocking up on some wisdom for the journey. Here's where my attention is these days:

I'm truly hoping that this article rings true this year. I think I can feel a glimmer of it.

I've got a year to actually get into the habit of flossing, I guess.

Things a 31 yr old is learning...and things a 29 year old could take to heart.

Feeling similarly at 29...I think I know what I want to be, now I just have to get an employer to agree.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Bright-Sided

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined AmericaBright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An in-depth look at the "power" of positive thinking, and what it's done to America, by the author of Nickel & Dimed.

First thoughts: While I appreciate all the work Ehrenreich clearly did for this book, I got a bit lost in all the referenced studies and histories of positive psychologists. I agree with her basic points, so that kept me with the book, but sometimes it felt like it took her a while to get to those points.

Favorite quote: "A vigilant realism does not foreclose the pursuit of happiness; in fact, it makes it possible."

Recommended for: People wondering why their positive outlook isn't working, realists, and those who think they can attract wealth by thinking about it.

Final thoughts: Ehrenreich's send off is essentially to make heaven on Earth - instead of drawing into ourselves to think our way to happiness, we should work to make the world around us a better place. This seems like such a simple solution, but one that many people (myself included) don't come to on their own. I wish this sentiment had been introduced earlier in the book, and then reinforced in each chapter. It's a beautiful idea, and one that I think most happiness seekers can get behind.


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Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Find Fulfilling Work

How To Find Fulfilling WorkHow To Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick, if simplified look into what makes work "fulfilling" - and if that is even a worthy ideal to want.

First thoughts: I was ready for this to be a fluff read, but the idea of the luxury of fulfillment is brought up on page one, which I appreciated. I'm lucky that my general career path has been meaningful, even if not always the most lucrative. I just want it to stay meaningful!

Career thoughts: What's most frustrating about reading this is knowing what the fulfilling work of your life has been/could be, but needing an employer to agree and hire you.

Favorite quotes:

On growing into your vocation: "Simply by devoting ourselves to work that gives us deep fulfillment through meaning, flow, and freedom....Over time, a tangible and inspiring goal may quietly germinate, grow larger, and eventually flower into life."

On fears and inhibitions: "Yet if we are to move beyond them, if we are to cut the rope and be free, we need to treat life as an experiment and discover the little bit of madness that lies within us all."

Recommended for: thinkers and dreamers, time-clock watchers, those in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and employers.

Final thoughts: This took me about a day to read. It has a few good thoughts, nothing Earth-shattering, but still affirming to read!


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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Museum of Contemporary Art: Murakami

I've lived in Chicago for almost seven years, and this past weekend I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time! My fiance isn't huge on the concept of "contemporary art," and I'm not passionate about it, so it hasn't been high on our list of things to see, but their current Murakami exhibit beckoned us to finally check a look.
One of the things about contemporary art is it's always changing (to be contemporary, ya know), so none of the exhibitions at the MCA are permanent. Right now (and until September 24), Murakami is the anchor exhibit, taking up most of the top floor, but smaller galleries on the lower floors were...interesting as well.

If I'm being honest, it was difficult to take some of the pieces seriously in these smaller galleries. At times, I literally looked around me to see if we were all being punk'd. While the spaces, how they were arranged, and the presentation of the art were all seamless and effective, I wasn't as immersed in the emotion or talent of the art as I have been at other museums. I mean, there was literally a collection of contact lenses in one of the galleries. This is just a clay bowl with an imprint of a debit card in it. It felt too come mierda (as a Puerto Rican would say) to have a reaction other than "Hmm." I don't doubt that what's in the museum is art, but it's more commentary and statement than art for art's sake.


Takashi Murakami though, didn't disappoint. Neither Jesus nor I knew who he was before seeing his works at the museum, other than that he is Japanese and has collaborated with Kanye West. The entire gallery read like a visual autobiography, tracing Murakami's artistic journey to the creator he is today. I'm always a sucker for diverse portfolios and seeing how an artist (of any kind) evolves. Moods and phases are obvious in retrospect and you can further appreciate recent works knowing where they came from. Murakami is a contemporary artist, yes, but his influences reach deep into Japanese history. Add that to his own personal history, and all those layers add up to a wonderful viewing experience.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate (Bartimaeus, #3)Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The final installment of The Bartimaeus Trilogy (which I finally read!) doesn't disappoint, but it does take some commitment. At 501 pages, this wasn't a flimsy read, especially considering it's been over 10 years since I read the second book and even more since the first.

First thoughts: I miss YA - note to self to read more of it! Reading this reminded me of all the joys of reading as a teenager: getting involved in fantastic worlds full of dynamic characters, losing track of time, creating my own fan fictions.

First thoughts 2.0: Did I wait too long to read this? It took me a bit to remember who characters were and where we last saw them. This isn't a fluffy trilogy - especially this last book - so it helped me to re-read at least the summaries of the first two books.

Favorite quote: "It's not about doing. It's about being. Don't expect to understand it: you're a human - you can only see surfaces, and then you want to impose yourself upon them."

Themes: the messiness of humanity, the balance between spontaneity and legacy, the impermanence and resilience of life.

Recommended for: any YA buffs, teachers, fans of Harry Potter/Charlie Bone/etc, parents with tweens & teens, and young adults, of course.

Final thoughts: I have to give this book five stars, despite a slow start. I'm satisfied with how the whole trilogy ended, and can't think of anything I'd change, except to know more (aka, continue the series). I guess I'd change my own reading so that I read all three books closer together!


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Saturday, July 1, 2017

All These Wonders

The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the UnknownThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown by Catherine Burns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A collection of stories told on various Moth stages, all relating to the theme of "Facing the Unknown" and including storytellers old, young, familiar, and fresh.

First thoughts: This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, and timely. What better time to read about facing the unknown than when staring down the unknown? It's a humbling feeling to know you're not alone, or that different from a wide variety of other humans.

Favorite quote: "Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything." - Neil Gaiman, foreword

Storytelling thoughts: While The Moth is about live storytelling more so than reading, I was still so moved by the emotions of the tellers. I can only imagine how powerful it is to be in the room when the stories are being told. Luckily, there are Moth events in Chicago, so someday (as soon as this month!) I can be in the room. For those who don't live near a city where they have live events, there's always the Moth Podcast or Radio Hour. And for those who don't do podcasts, there's this wonderful book.

Storyteller thoughts: I'm excited to seek out other works by the storytellers featured in this collection - some are published authors, others are comedians with Netflix specials, and others have no obvious connection to the storytelling world, except their humanity and a need to share their beautiful stories.

Recommended for: EVERYBODY. This book is now a permanent fixture in my personal library, and I'm going to share it with anyone who says they need something new to read. I can see this being a great gift for graduates or new parents.

Final thoughts: I laughed and cried and felt better about my place on this planet. This will be one of the few books I reread in my lifetime.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of All These Wonders from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On a whim, I decided to read this book I added to my to-read list way back when I was deep into yearlong challenges and pursuing happiness - if you're new to either topic, maybe check it out. If not, go ahead and give The Happiness Project a pass.

First thoughts: Yup, these are all ways to pursue happiness. I've done quite a few of what Rubin suggests - some "resolutions" I'm still practicing, others didn't work out for me. So I guess seeing that her journey was similar to mine was validating. I did keep waiting for something bad to happen, as per usual when someone undertakes a happiness quest...but Rubin's life is pretty good to her.

Favorite quote: "It isn't goal attainment but the process of striving after goals - that is, growth - that brings happiness."

Recommended for: Those with an interest in happiness may find some new things to think about here, but many readers will likely be turned off by Rubin's surface-level conclusions and charmed life.

Final thoughts: Rubin's happiness is never really tested - not that I wish misfortune on her - I think I'm more curious as to why someone decided to publish a book about a well-adjusted woman with a home, family, job, health, etc. pursuing happiness. I get that all of these things don't mean you're automatically happy with your life, but shoot. You should be. I wanted more depth - why should I care that a seemingly happy person craved more happiness? Why wasn't she as happy as most people in her shoes would be?


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Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Night Links 39

I'm one grad school class down, with 11 left to go. Class readings, discussions, and papers don't leave a lot of time for reading (or writing) for pleasure, which is a bit ironic, but at least homework assignments are interesting. Here are a few resources that I found were pretty legit substitutes for my typical reading:

I definitely had Library Anxiety my freshman year of college.

This is a lengthy survey, but I enjoyed reading the descriptions of different types of library users.

I learned a lot about teen services by reading about what goes into creating it from scratch.

Who knew? Full-time school librarians boost student achievement. (Librarians, that's who.)

Advocacy matters. All librarians have a responsibility to tell the story of what libraries do.

Especially in times of cuts to funding almost everywhere, what libraries do is important to our most vulnerable citizens.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Things My Students Say 7

For the last day of school, my final installment of this series:

Student: Ms. Kaiser, pretend you are an 8th grade girl
Me: ...okay...
Student: What would you want your crush to say to you?
Me: You're a cool girl! I think you're neat! I like you more than Pokemon!
Student: ...Have you ever been in a serious relationship?

Teacher: How would you explain majority rules in simple terms? ...Think of when your family is deciding where to eat.
Student: Mom rules and she says there's frijoles in the fridge.

Student A: Ms. K, do you have a kid?
Me: No.
Student B: She has two!
Me: ....Also no.

At the zoo: Ms. K, the penguins have your eyes!

While tapping on my glasses, which were on my face: "Ms. K, you have glasses?"

Referring to my engagement ring: "Ms. K, that looks like a dinosaur egg. When will your egg hatch?"

Student: Hey, Rachel!
Me: Excuse me?
Student: You're not my teacher anymore. Now we're just friends, so I can call you Rachel.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reading the Rainbow: Book Recommendations to Celebrate Pride

Welcome to June, which brings all the fun festivals: BBQ, Blues, Puerto Rico, Pride...it's a great month for eating, music, and celebrating love and equality. I've expanded my LGBTQ+ reading more and more each year, and it's done nothing but reaffirm my belief in reading authors who aren't (on the surface) like me. Of course, we're all human and deep down, basically the same. We all want to belong somewhere. We all crave validation of our humanity. We all want to be entertained by a great read.

Here's an article with a great starting point for multiple genres of books. I'm excited for the fairy tale retellings! And if you're interested, a few others from my reading list here, here, here, and here. Remember, love wins!

10 Mind-Blowing Bi & Lesbian Books

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Opportunity Equation

The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's SchoolsThe Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's Schools by Eric Schwarz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools, shares his vision for a world where every day citizens work with schools and teachers to ensure all students have access to the social networks and influence of a diverse array of adults.

First thoughts: I'm reading this book with just a bit of bias - both positive and negative. I obviously support the mission of Citizen Schools, but I've also seen areas where the organization has room for improvement. It was strange reading this book as a Teaching Fellow, specifically a TF2 (2nd-year) who is leaving the organization in about one week. Then again, it also seemed fitting to read this at the end of my Citizen Schools career.

Favorite quotes:

"Citizen power, properly mobilized, can change the world." (I've seen it!)

"Children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges." (This is the concept of the inter-generational self, or the idea that we are all connected to and a part of our families, and we are more powerful because of it.)

"Did we really need another database, another evaluation system, another decision-making matrix, I wondered?" (HA - yes, I've had this thought so often the past two years.)

"The problem comes when the externally focused optimist and the internally focused skeptics take their natural proclivities too far." (Balance, people.)

"We need to step into schools with minimal judgment and as much curiosity and energy as we can muster. That's how to change the opportunity equation."

Recommended for: educators, parents, citizens, those with money or time, politicians.

Final thoughts: I never knew the "unofficial" flower of Citizen Schools is the sunflower - okay, there's a lot of things about CS I didn't know before reading this book. Mostly I didn't know how the organization was run/currently runs in Boston, where it started. Boston and Chicago are so very different, so it's interesting to see how adaptable the Boston school system seems to be to the "Extended Learning Time" model, compared with the struggles CPS has to get any learning time. We've got a long way to go before we reach equality in education in this country.


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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman (Go See It Now)

Do I even need to write a review of this movie? Just go see it, people. The numbers don't lie.

Wonder Woman was, yes, a brilliant female-led film. But it was also a quintessential summer blockbuster. It did so many things so right while also staying true to the superhero genre in all the best ways. I laughed. I cried. I left the theater feeling so empowered I felt like I could take on the world.

This tweet sums it up best for me:

YES. That's exactly it, right there. This is why we need more movies (and TV shows and books and award winners and presidents...) featuring people who aren't white men. Everyone deserves to feel like they can save the world. Everyone deserves to be the hero. There's room for all of us on the big screen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Chosen

The ChosenThe Chosen by Chaim Potok
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part baseball, part religion, part exploration of the weight of parental expectations.

First thoughts: This book took me a long time to read because it took me a long time to get into it and understand what the point is. After finishing, I'm still not sure how impactful the book is to me personally. I wanted to know what was going to happen, but didn't know where it was going most of the time.

Favorite quotes:
"Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing."

"...as you grow older you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as a result of silly things."

Librarian thoughts: The one point of access I had to the story was in thinking about censorship of books, especially for youth. How important is it to steer kids towards/away from certain books? Who decides what is appropriate for kids to read: teachers, parents, the kids themselves?

Recommended for: This book was probably not written for me, so take this review with a grain of salt. I think baseball fans will get into it quicker than I did. Jewish people will understand most of it better than I did. Anyone who is knowledgeable about religions, Judaism in the 1940s and 50s, or Freud will "get" the conflict of the story in a more complete way than I ever could.

Final thoughts: Ehh, it felt anticlimactic. Like, that's it? After all the build-up of the father-son relationships? Not sure how to feel, or if I feel anything at all. The book shows how doctrine and semantics can divide a group from the inside, yet all I could think as a non-Jewish person/outsider looking in was: how are you two that different? Underlines the importance of focusing on similarities with those we view as distinct from us - odds are others don't see your differences as clearly as you do.


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Saturday, May 27, 2017

What the F

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and OurselvesWhat the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What the F?! ...aka, what a perfect title for a book. Catchy and fun.

First thoughts: This book is super fun, especially to a sometimes sailor mouth (though most don't expect it). I always love having some background on my words, and knowing where the 4-letter ones came from (and why we call them that) only makes them more interesting. There were a few technical parts that I skimmed, but for the most part I was super into reading about how language itself forms and changes.

Profane thoughts: One of the best parts of reading a book about swearing is getting to swear a lot (at least in your head, though I also took extra liberty with reading passages out loud to Jesus). Another good part - finding out how profanity follows specific patterns, even across languages, yet also does its own thing. Did you know your brain reacts differently when it hears swears versus non-swears? We process cursing differently than we do non-profane language. So cool.

Censored thoughts: While I'm keeping this review profanity-free, I also don't condone censorship. Of course, you have to know where you're at and who your audience is, but on the whole, eliminating words doesn't help anything. Listening to others, trying not to offend, and using words that others prefer (specifically in the case of slurs - arguable the most offensive profane words) - these things help us connect with others in ways that censorship doesn't.

Recommended for: Parents and teachers. Wordies, linguists, bibliophiles. Potty mouths and prudes.

Final thoughts: Profanity isn't good or bad. It is what we make it...swear if you wanna, don't if you don't. :)


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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ciao WOW!

Tonight was my final WOW! event with Citizen Schools. (For the record, WOW! doesn't stand for anything, it's just the reaction we want our audience to have when they see all the cool stuff our kids have learned and made over the course of 10 weekly classes...although my students did suggest Watch Our Work, and I think that's a worthy option.) In two years, I helped plan four WOW!s, which showcased a total of 36 Apprenticeships (7 of which I personally led). I also managed a group of 30+ volunteers each semester as the Citizen Teacher Lead. Most importantly, 100+ students had the opportunity to learn 21st-century skills from the volunteers - bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, computer programmers, motivational speakers, pilots, consultants, data analysts - and share what they learned to friends, teachers, and their families.

As stressful as planning an event like tonight can be, I'm always so excited to see how the kids light up when they have an audience to teach or perform for. In two years I've seen kids publish their own 'zine, build solar cars, raise over 800 dollars for an animal shelter, perform spoken word poetry, investigate a crime scene, present their personal vision boards, invent new ice cream flavors, teach juggling, and share SO MANY lessons learned about aviation, entrepreneurship, coding, networking...the list goes on.

Tonight was truly the cherry on top of a wonderful sundae, and thankfully I have a few more weeks for goodbyes and end of year celebrations!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Day 50

Woooooaaaah we're halfway there, wooaaah....that's all I've got to share. :)

I've written a page a day for 50 straight days, mostly. Once I completely forgot (around day 41) and made up for it with two pages the next day. Once I didn't forget, but I willfully didn't write (around day 43 - last week was rough, guys) and again, made up for it with two pages the next day.

All around, I'd say a pretty successful challenge. If I can do 50 days, I can do 50 more - and now that I've added grad school to my life juggle and things have settled down from the first few weeks of class, writing is finding its space in my daily routine again (instead of me wondering how I'm going to fit it in between practicing cataloging standards and writing discussion posts about library marketing).

What will I do when I reach 100 days? Unsure. I won't force myself to write full pages, but I do find that if I let my mind wander for a few lines I get out all the random schtuff in my brain and I can get on to the real schtuff. And there's something to be said about having a consistent routine. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Underground Railroad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was hard to do anything library or book related without seeing/hearing about this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner this past fall/winter/spring. Co-workers recommended it, celebrities praised it on social media, and I was intrigued by a story of a real Underground Railroad - historical fiction with the emphasis on fiction? Sign me up.

First thoughts: Taking the above into account, I was not as excited with The Underground Railroad as I expected to be. It didn't grab me like I wanted it to, and I kept waiting to read more about the railroad itself.

Favorite quote: "A plantation was a plantation; one might think one's misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality."

Recommended for: adventurous readers, casual readers, anyone who likes to stay current on reading trends.

Final thoughts: While I eventually got more into the story, the story itself stayed mostly on the surface. By the end of the book we still don't know Cora, and definitely don't know Mabel, Royal, or Cesar. And there's definitely not enough detail about the railroad - Who made it? How does it work? What's the schedule? That's all I wanted to read about. Sadly, I think The Underground Railroad suffers from not setting itself apart enough from other slave narratives - and it had a real chance to do so with the "real" railroad angle. If I knew more about the story before reading I might have enjoyed it more, but I went in expecting both a great literary tale and an exciting, new, different story.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thoughts on blogging & privacy

This blogger's post on introversion and connection is resonating with me today, but my online silence has less to do with being introverted and more with needing time to figure out what privacy means to me in a period of intense life change. Even coming here to share that fact feels exposing.

I have a few fun things I want to share in the coming weeks and months (so many thoughts on wedding planning and going back to school), but right now I'd rather spend my energies writing offline until I'm sure of what I want to say.

And I haven't forgotten about Photography Month:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bad Feminist

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to these essays by Roxane Gay over the course of a week, during my walk to and from work. I think that had I been reading a printed copy, I might have skimmed/skipped a few essays that didn't resonate as much with my personal story, but I enjoyed listening to them.

First thoughts: Roxane Gay is so smart. It's intimidating at times, but also refreshing. I'm glad she doesn't dumb things down, but instead makes her reader/listener get on her level. In the same way she's also unapologetically honest, and I had to get on her level to hear her truths.

Essay thoughts: As I mentioned, some essays were more relatable (to me) than others. I've read The Hunger Games, I'm familiar with various pop culture references, and I too am usually the quiet studious one in school. In others, while I didn't always connect with the content (I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey), I still found her commentary interesting.

Recommended for: students, young adults who are figuring out their place in the world, good feminists, hesitant feminists, and people who still cringe at the word feminist.

Final thoughts: There was no universe in which I wasn't going to eventually read or discuss this book - while referencing a lot of current pop culture, Bad Feminist itself has become an item of pop culture. It was only a matter of time, and I'm glad that time was sooner rather than later.


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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bedwetter, Please: Two Books By & About Comedians

Besides being former SNL cast members from New England and becoming popular by leading comedic television shows, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman don't have a lot in common. Their types of humor are vastly different, and their audiences vary wildly as well. Their memoirs reflect their personal styles, and their respective audiobooks, read by themselves, show how important those styles are to how their audiences interact with and relate to them. If you're thinking about reading either Yes Please or The Bedwetter, I'd recommend the audiobook, as both of these women know how to perform, even when they can't see their audiences.

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: I LOVE Poehler reading her own book and bringing in other performers (Seth Meyers, her parents) to read various chapters. It really gives credibility to each individual voice. Poehler's audiobook asides are great extra bits that play out through the entire book.

Favorite quotes:

"You do it because the doing of it is the thing."

"Great people do things before they are ready."

"I tried to tell the truth and be funny."

"Good for her. Not for me." (I've found myself repeating this ever since hearing it, anytime I start to get jealous of what another person(woman) has or is doing.)

"Figure out what you want. Say it out loud. Then shut up."

"Ambivalence is key to success."

"If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier."

Content thoughts: Poehler's memoir does talk about her journey to where she is today, and she has chapters on all the important events in her comedic formation, but this is also a self-help/motivation book (as the above quotes demonstrate). Poehler has plenty to say about her own upbringing and coming of age as a woman writer/actor/director/etc, but she also has a few choice words applicable to any person in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want. I appreciated this relatability, and I think this is what makes the memoir work (for me). Memoirs aren't my favorite genre, mostly because I don't care enough about one person's life to read an entire book on it. When the memoir is elevated to empowerment manual, then I'm on board.

Audiobook thoughts: I'm so glad I chose to listen to Yes Please. Poehler is a performer through and through. Her last chapter is a recording of a live reading in a theater, audience laughter and all.

Recommended for: women, aspiring writers and performers, funny people, fans of SNL and Parks and Recreation, those who need a little pep and pick up.

Final thoughts: Yes, please to Yes Please.


The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and PeeThe Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Silverman sure does make a career out of being gross/crude. I'm part jealous, part meh. While it was interesting to hear about her childhood and "backstory," I couldn't always relate to how she got to where she is today (which made it harder to care).

Favorite quote: "Make it a treat." - how to approach life's luxuries so you don't burn yourself out on them.

Recommended for: Anyone who is already a fan would probably enjoy hearing Silverman's origin story, and I think certain young women would benefit from hearing about a public figure's struggles with self esteem, especially around the topic of wetting the bed.

Final thoughts: The Bedwetter doesn't age particularly well - Silverman talks about her role in the Obama campaign and the state of America in 2009, and some passages got a little cringe-y. While there was no way she could foresee the mess we'd be in eight years later, there were parts that were hard to listen to. Also, I don't think I'll ever totally be on board with her voice, which doesn't help an audiobook's case. As a commute companion, though, I could've done worse.


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Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was terrifying to read in December of 2016, and it's even more horrifying to review in early 2017. In the dystopian future of The Running Man, "the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings." ...Hmmm...sound familiar? This book, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym, isn't your typical Stephen King thriller, but its premise is chilling and more relevant today than ever before.

First thoughts: The Hunger Games meets Blade Runner meets Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984. I was surprised at how familiar Ben Richards' world is. I didn't think a book written in the early 1980s would resonate so well/so eerily today.

Favorite quote: "Protest did not work. Violence did not work."

Reality thoughts: The more I read, the more breaks I needed to take. Things got too real: asthma and cancer on the rise because of pollution, the government hiding information, denying environmental hazards, treating the poor and underemployed like criminals, profiting off violence and fear....it got to be too much.

Recommended for: Americans. Specifically ones who thought a racist clown would make their country "great again," those who are starting to see the cracks in the facade, and others who still believe the circus act.

Final thoughts: What was a scary book pre-inauguration is now our reality. The last few chapters had me gasping in shock, not unlike how I read the news these days.


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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quiet Advantages: Two Books on Introverts

It's a surprise to exactly no one that I'm a natural introvert who can "behave" like an extrovert when necessary (ie, I prefer to recharge on my own and I work best in one-on-one or small group situations, but I don't shy away from addressing an entire room when my job calls for it). Because I love reading about myself and I've researched human behavior before, this wasn't news to me when I borrowed The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking from the library. I didn't read these books to decide whether or not I was an introvert, but to affirm my strengths and learn new ways to take advantage of the things I do best. One of these books did that better than the other, but both validated my quirks and reactions to the world around me.

(Note for those who aren't familiar with temperament definitions: introverts, in general, process things inwardly and are more easily stimulated by sights/sounds/smells, whereas extroverts are energized by outside stimulation and feel drained when they are alone or under-stimulated. This is a very basic explanation and I recommend reading this article to clarify where you fall on the temperament spectrum.)

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert WorldThe Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started the audiobook version while waiting for the physical copy to come to my library, and when I finally read the text I was surprised at how much I remembered from listening. This isn't a complex book or intense guide on the advantages of introverts, but rather a feel-good (sometimes a little too "feel-good") collection of the ways introverts are just fine how they are.

First thoughts: I don't want to be referred to as an "innie" ever again in my life. Ew. Besides this off-putting terminology, I was underwhelmed with the author's choices. She treats introverts like fragile flowers who need constant pep talks and mental breaks.

Repetitive information: I'm guessing most people who come across this book already know they are introverts, so the checklists and surveys were unnecessary, and the author's insistence that introverts are okay, perfectly fine humans was a little over the top...we're reserved and introspective, not weak/sickly/fragile as the author hinted at.

Useful information: What I appreciated most was the author's suggestion to use body scans to check temperament and energy levels in the moment. I don't always check in with myself during the day, which can lead to wondering why I'm extra tired later on.

Recommended for: Honestly, don't read this if you're just learning about introversion/extroversion - check it out if you know yourself, but want a few extra tips for being introverted at work/in relationships/as a parent.

Final thoughts: More fluff than substance, but a good reminder to take care of myself when I'm out and about.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based in research and with no shortage of scientific knowledge and character profiles, this book was more informational and interesting than a diluted self-help guide.

First thoughts: Quiet treats its readers like grown adults who want to learn more about the science behind temperaments. It's written for anyone interested in the topic, not just introverts.

Useful information:

  • We introverts naturally "pause to process surprising or negative feedback" which allows us to learn from it. We reflect on what goes wrong in a situation and avoid it in the future, whereas (typically) extroverts move past negative feedback to quickly to learn from it.
  • Introvert Powers: concentration, persistence, insight, sensitivity.
  • A lot goes on under the surface of an introvert's calm demeanor - we may appear to be "zoning out," but that's because we're spending our energy working on complex problems or processing the world around us, not on facial arrangement.

Favorite quotes:

"Sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion."

"The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

Recommended for: Introverts who'd like extra help figuring out their strengths, extroverts who are confused about why their introverted friends/loved ones/coworkers need alone time, parents, teachers, and other caring adults who want to learn the best ways to allow their children/students to thrive.

Final thoughts: I've always been a lean on my strengths versus work on my weaknesses type of person, and this book helped me narrow in on the strengths I want to highlight as I transition out of teacher life and back into student life. I know what positives I bring to the workplace and to my own studies, but now I know how best to show others my strengths and skills so my full potential is realized.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Different Kind of Poetry

I hope no one needed me to remind them about Poetry Month this year - I decided not to write/post a poem each day here in lieu of something a little bit different. Instead, I'm participating in The 100 Day Project. It's a project that's usually art-driven, and meant to be shared (via Instagram, using #the100dayproject plus whatever other personal hashtag creators come up with), but I'm keeping mine mostly private. It won't end when Poetry Month does (or Photography Month), so it's not strictly poetic (or photographic).

If I had to make an original hashtag for my 100 days, it would be #100days100pages...or #100pages100changes. I started with everyone else (on April 4) and will continue to write one page in my journal each day for 100 days, ending mid-July. Those are my only rules. So far I've filled pages with all words, some words and lots of doodles, decorated quotes from role models, and bits and pieces from whatever day I'm documenting. It's not as artsy as some projects, and it's less focused on a beautiful product than others, but I knew when I started that I didn't want a lot of guidelines and I did want a detailed account of April-July 2017, a period of time that promises to be filled with so many changes.

Cheers to today, Day 15, and to 85 more days of writing, changing, and creating.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Get Some Headspace

Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a DayGet Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My week on Spring Break was all about headspace - I checked my work email exactly twice, and thought about it minimally beyond that. Instead of waking up already anxious about my days, I lingered in early morning dreams, took my time enjoying my coffee, and listened to audiobook on top of audiobook while cleaning, cooking, and rearranging furniture. It was amazing, but real life isn't like Spring Break. We need to fight for our headspace, and sometimes getting ten minutes of it in a day is a struggle. In Get Some Headspace, Andy Puddicombe walks his reader (or in this case, listener) through a few different mindful practices between stories of his journey to a mindful life.

First thoughts: I thought an audiobook version of a mindfulness manual would work well, considering you have to be pretty mindful to listen. I think I got better at concentrating as the book went on, but it was a struggle for me to stop fidgeting/multitasking/reading other things (yes, I know) and just listen.

Mindful thoughts: I need meditation time. I am bad at carving out meditation time. Or mindful time. Or any time that's not eating/sleeping/phone scrolling...it's a continuous process. Listening made me mindful of how distracted I am. Puddicombe's advice in this situation? Think less about my worries and more about other people's happiness - if I'm finding a few mindful moments with the knowledge that it'll be better for those around me, I'll have an easier time separating myself and quieting my mind.

Favorite (paraphrased) key thoughts:

Meditation shines a light on how you think - and it's not always pretty.
Your mind is like the sky: it's always blue, even when there are clouds. Our minds remain constant, even when things get cloudy. Meditation isn't about clearing the skies, or making blue skies out of gray, but allowing the mind to be in its natural state.

Recommended for: any and all - and if an entire audiobook/book on mindfulness isn't your thing, check out Puddicombe's Headspace app for ten-minute guided meditations.

Final thoughts: While listening got easier, my brain will always work better with visual cues, especially for chapter breaks. Puddicombe's voice is calming, and his down-to-earth explanations are accessible and relatable.


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Weekend in DC

Things that make a great vacation:

  • Options for activities, including no activity at all
  • A knowledgeable host
  • Great food
  • Naps
Escaping from Chicago for four days was exactly what I needed, and choosing Washington, DC as our travel destination was a great choice - I had never been as an adult, Jesus hadn't been in several years, and we had great hosts to both house us and take us to a bunch of fun spots around town. We ate at Ted's Bulletin (homemade Pop-Tarts!), Sudhouse (patio seating & games!), and Rakuya (happy hour sushi!). We drank at The Board Room (board games and beer!) and Drafthouse (free comedy!). We went to a Japanese festival and the Cherry Blossom Parade. We visited four museums and three parks, saw a drum circle, and rode the Metro like locals. We even fit in a short snooze on the National Mall. It was a solid Spring Break getaway.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Seeing

SeeingSeeing by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sort-of sequel to Saramago's earlier work, Blindness, takes things to a more political level, but there's still plenty of philosophy and a few favorite characters make comebacks.

First thoughts: I get that the run on sentences are part of it all, but man do they make this a s-l-o-w read. It's mental gymnastics sometimes, and early on I missed the familiarity of Blindness. The dry humor and my curiosity carried me through until it picked up/I got used to the style again.

Favorite quotes:

"...not only does the universe have its own laws, all of them indifferent to the contradictory dreams and desires of humanity..., but everything seems to indicate that it uses these law for aims and objectives that transcend and always will transcend our understanding..."

"Languages are conservative, they always carry their archives with them and hate having to be updated."

"...truths need to be repeated many times so that they don't, poor things, lapse into oblivion."

Conversations thoughts: There were a lot of pretend/practiced conversations in this book that never actually came to fruition - characters would act out what they would say/would have said in certain situations for pages before admitting the reason why they couldn't/didn't say those words. I don't have anything enlightening to add except that this happened on enough occasions for me to notice, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who does this at length.

Recommended for: thinkers and ponderers, fans of long translations, poetic phrases that last several pages, or complex philosophical hypotheticals, anyone who wants to know what happens when a population refuses to participate in democracy.

Final thoughts: I'm glad I didn't wait too long after Blindness to read this companion piece, and I enjoyed the mental workout it gave me. The words/phrases/chapter-long sentences truly are a work of art.


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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Watching, Listening, Reading

The sky was blue for about 20 minutes yesterday, but otherwise it's been a long rainy week here in Chicago. We're so close to Spring Break - each gray morning is another reminder of how much we all need some time away. Summoning the motivation to do anything other than curl up on the couch after work is getting more and more difficult. Luckily, I've found enjoyment and escape in a few different forms of entertainment:

Prison Break: IT'S BACK, PEOPLE. (Obvious spoilers to anyone who never watched the original show.) Yes, eight years after the finale, Prison Break 2.0 dares to ask the question we were all wondering: What if Michael didn't die? This nine episode "sequel" premiered yesterday and with close to 4 million viewers, it looks like fans are on board with whatever intense/complex/far-fetched storyline writers and producers have up their sleeves. I certainly am - seeing Lincoln, Dr. Tancredi, C-Note, T-Bag, Sucre, and Michael back on my TV screen is nostalgia I'm down for.

S-Town: What a strange and beautiful podcast. I went into it thinking I'd hear about an unsolved mystery, or at the very least the shady workings of a small town in Alabama, and I ended with a greater understanding of my humanity. S-Town (Shit Town) tells the story of a creative, tortured, and one-of-a-kind genius, with forays into the lives of other characters and descriptions of places and situations I'm completely unfamiliar with. Since all seven episodes are available, this podcast listens more like an audiobook than a series with weekly installments, but pace yourselves nonetheless.

Yes Please: Speaking of audiobooks, I had a hunch that listening to Amy Poehler read her own book would be worth not having something physical to hold/page through/look back on to find perfectly witty nuggets of advice and I wasn't wrong. Poehler reads like she means it - because she does. No droning or monotone voices here, just a lifelong writer/improviser bringing her own words to life before my very ears.

All These Wonders: If this collection of "True Stories About the Unknown" from the Moth is as enchanting as the cover and Neil Gaiman's foreword, I've got some wonderful reading ahead of me. Gaiman writes, "Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything." I mean, c'mon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The City of Your Final Destination

City of Your Final DestinationCity of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about leaving home to find yourself and change the direction of your life. TCOYFD has plenty of mystery, believable characters, and intricate relationship dynamics.

First thoughts: The actual reading of this book was enjoyable - so many poetic turns and characters I could root for and understand. It reminds me of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and, in a strange way, the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona - stories of travel, lives changed by art, love triangles.

Favorite quotes (there are a lot):

"Champagne is never a mistake." -Caroline, p75

"Why does traveling, coming far, excite us? Has it to do with what we leave behind or with what we encounter?" -Caroline, p77

"I will behave like a normal person for as long as I possibly can." -Omar, p79

"The thing is not to let being scared stop you from doing the right thing, or from getting the things you want. That is what makes us cowards." -Adam, p105

"There is a way that people displace their attention to one another onto the landscape that, when done simultaneously, is sometimes an effective and satisfying substitute for communication." -p106

"You must live your life as if you are the hero of a novel. You must always do something interesting, always earn your space on the page. It is very hard to live one's life like that. Novels are so deceitful in that way: they leave so much out. The years of tedium, of happiness perhaps, but tedious happiness. Or tedious unhappiness." -Adam, p179

"And so we sat there, saying nothing, and our chance was lost." -Adam, p244

"I'm twenty-eight years old and I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what I can do. I don't know anything." -Omar, p266-267 (This quote is perhaps the reason why the book resonated so much with me!)

Recommended for: travelers, homebodies, wanderers who may or may not be lost, lovers, fighters, poets, dreamers, and doers.

Final thoughts: Filled with beautiful imagery and phrases, this book was romantic, sad, and sweet. I loved finding out the "final destination" of all the characters.


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicago History Musuem

Why have I never been here before?! The Chicago History Museum is interactive, educational, and a fun time for this transplant and her native fiance.